Area: Middle Fork

Length: (5.9 +) 2.6

Elevation: 3990 +300 -630

Condition: primitive, rough

Solitude: very high

Appeal: high

Features: Thompson lake

Difficulty: moderate

Administered: shared, DNR, USFS North Bend

Trailhead: Granite Lakes

Connects to:
Granite Lakes road-trail
Thompson / Defiance backdoor trail

Guides: (none)

Maps: USGS Bandera, Green Trails Bandera



This rarely-maintained, obscure connector trail bridges between the battered Granite Lakes road-trail and Thompson Lake, at the southwest corner of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. As the first large lake from the urban areas along the I-90 corridor, you would think that it is a mob scene. But trust me, it's not. Challenging access keeps it that way, almost forgotten.

Thompson is bitterly cold and clear, with picturesque small islands, and a different look from every angle of view. There are some comfortable but primitive camp sites.




Follow the Granite Lakes trail/road/disaster area 5.3 miles to the Y intersection. Instead of the right branch that descends to the lakes, take the left branch. The remaining agony will be short.

Thompson Lake high view

Follow 1.1 miles from the road fork on an uphill sweep that bends left, right, then again left, right. At what was once a vaguely identifiable landing area on the right, there is now a clearly placed new trailhead sign. The trail quickly narrows, passes into regrowth brush, and starts to have a more natural feel. A gentle upward grade approaches the ridge, then dishearteningly drops about 150 feet to cross a creek drainage. Don't despair, the sensible upward grade resumes evenly on the other side, following the contours, recovering elevation, and approaching the ridge top at about 1.9 miles. Reach the official Alpine Lakes Wilderness boundary there, leaving the historical clearcut zone behind. Stay on the ridge top heading south a short distance, perhaps 0.1 miles, and look for the trail to veer sharply to the left, north, contouring the opposite direction down the slope on the east side. The tread is somewhat rough but generally firm and safe, arriving at the lake at 2.6 miles. There are a couple of major switchbacks and viewpoints along the way down.

For camping, about 200 feet above the lake, find an old sign. On the opposite side of the trail, almost straight across, there is a barely discernible side trail. It might take a while to decide whether it is a trail or not... but it is. It will take you gradually down around the NW corner of the lake, dropping slowly to some very primitive but comfortable camp spots on a small rib not far above the lake shore. Care for a mystery? Older route maps indicate a way down from Thompson to Spider Lake across the lake outlet.

Thompson Lake at sunrise


Thompson Lake at sunrise

If you prefer a somewhat more open camp site, turn right where you reach the lake shore at a battered day-use site. There is an astonishingly even trail passing through the boulders and back into normal forest at the southwest corner of the lake. If you reach a tiny creeklet cutting across the trail, you have gone too far. Shortly before that, look toward the lake for a small snow-melt meadow near the side of a minor peninsula and behind a large log.

Cross the wooded peninsula to find firm shore access. Continuing further up the trail takes you toward Mount Defiance.